ELIZABETH – A member of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang was sentenced to a 45 year prison term for killing a man he thought had insulted him, according to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Juan Jose Castillo, 23, was convicted of first-degree murder after a 10-day trial in September. He stabbed Manuel Rodriguez to death after a confrontation at the El Quixote Bar in Elizabeth on Sept. 25, 2005.
Rodriguez bumped into Castillo on the way out of the bathroom.
“A short time later, the two began yelling at each other across the bar and the defendant flashed a hand signal that bartenders recognized as a gang sign,” said Assistant Union County Prosecutor James Donnelly, who tried the case in Superior Court in Elizabeth.
Castillo was thrown out of the bar. He then waited outside for Rodriguez. When the bar emptied out at 2:45 a.m., Castillo stabbed Rodriguez twice in the chest, puncturing Rodriguez’s heart. He died en route to the hospital.
When Castillo was captured six months later, he initially denied being the attacker. Later he said that he had been drunk.
Judge Stuart Peim said that Castillo’s sentence took into account that he waited for Rodriguez to leave the bar before killing him. Castillo again blamed intoxication for his actions as he had during the trial.
Castillo must serve 85 percent of his sentence – over 38 years – before becoming eligible for parole, officials said.
“This was gang violence, pure and simple,” said Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow, urging people to report crime in their neighborhoods. “The sooner we can identify gang members and get them off the streets, the better. No family should have to endure the brutal and unnecessary death of a loved one. There is no place for vicious gang members in our cities or society.”
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